Saturday, June 20, 2009

Journey a triumph of human spirit

Match facts

Sunday June 21
Start time 1500 local (1400 GMT)

Big Picture

On the morning of March 3 in Lahore, the world of cricket was shaken to the core. The horrific attack on the Sri Lankan team bus, as it pulled into the Gadaffi Stadium ahead of the third day of the second Test against Pakistan, was the moment a thousand preconceptions were destroyed. Cricket's presumptions to diplomatic immunity had been mocked by the forces of evil, and as Pakistan spiralled into sporting exile and Sri Lanka's traumatised players rushed home to the bosom of their families, the obvious reaction was to wonder "what now?" for the great game.

Three and a half months later, and sport's great gift for reinvention has delivered a contest that flicks two fingers at the perpetrators of the Lahore atrocity, and proves that - without wishing to overload the sentiment - the human spirit cannot be crushed by cold calculation. Pakistan and Sri Lanka will take center stage at Lord's on Sunday for the final of the most joyful international tournament the game has arranged in years. Twenty20 may be cricket for hedonists, but after everything these two teams and their respective nations have been through of late, the need to lay on a party suddenly feels like the only serious obligation.

"It is a fitting reward for the courage of the team in the way they have played the tournament," said Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's statesmanlike captain. "All the players have got through Lahore, but what it brought home to us is that we are just the same as everyone else. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded of your mortality, especially when the press and everyone else blows you up to be more than that in this sporting culture. But we've shown no fear and we've gone to play cricket, and it's a fitting reward for that attitude."

If Sri Lanka enter the final as favourites, it is only by dint of their exceptional consistency throughout the tournament. Unlike South Africa, the one-dimensional steamrollers who were spectacularly upstaged by the mercurial Pakistanis at Trent Bridge, Sri Lanka's unbeaten run owes itself, if you like, to a Barcelona-style carousel system, in which the identity of the day's gamebreaker is impossible to call until the damage has already been done. One day, Ajantha Mendis will sweep through the midfield, the next it's Lasith Malinga, while Muttiah Muralitharan's enduring class allows no liberties to be taken against his four overs. And then, every once in a while, up will pop a totally random destroyer, such as Angelo Mathews, the three-wicket wrecking ball against West Indies on Friday.

And yet, Pakistan have developed some serious momentum in the latter stages of the tournament. Their captain, Younis Khan, laughed in the face of their group-stage trouncing against England, dismissing Twenty20 cricket as "fun", and later likened it to WWF wrestling as well. His comments caused consternation at the time, particularly for the thousands of passionate Pakistan fans whose presence and exuberance at all matches have been among the highlights of the competition. But internally, his words had a soothing effect on a side that had lacked meaningful match practice since a low-key one-day series in UAE. As soon as they hit their stride with a walloping of New Zealand at Lord's, Younis' impassioned defence of his star bowler, Umar Gul, in the face of ball-tampering insinuations, left no-one in any doubt as to the galvanised nature of their campaign.

Gul's peerless death bowling remains one reason why Pakistan have the potential to go one step better than in 2007, when Misbah-ul-Haq's traumatic aberration delivered India a five-run victory and instigated a Twenty20 revolution. Shahid Afridi's big-game mentality and bamboozling legspin is another. Set against their wiles is the sensational form and innovative eye of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who produced his most orthodox innings of the tournament on Friday and still came within ten yards of posting the second century in Twenty20 international history.

But whatever happens, it's all about to come down to 40 overs of fiesta cricket in front of a packed house at Lord's, and on this occasion, the old adage "to the victors, the spoils" somehow doesn't seem fitting. Sunday's final is not merely a celebration of cricket, it is a celebration of life. And that's a very serious reason to abandon any lingering hang-ups about the place of 20-over cricket in the grander scheme of the game, and simply get on with the important business of letting the hair down. Joie de vivre has carried these two teams into the final, and it will sustain them in victory or defeat.

Tournament record
(most recent first)
Pakistan WWWLWL
Sri Lanka WWWWWW

Watch out for...

Tillakaratne Dilshan has been the tournament's outstanding run-maker, and one of the format's great innovators as well, with his so-called "Dilscoop" turning back-of-a-length dot-balls into undefendable boundaries over the keeper's head. His tally of 317 runs - almost double the number of any other player in the final - have come at an average of 63.40 and a strike rate of nearly three runs every two balls, but his magnificent 96 not out in the semi-final victory over West Indies was especially notable for its normality. He simply middled every shot he attempted, and with 14 boundaries to 15 dot-balls, it reeked of a serious batsman in princely form.

Umar Gul

Daniel Vettori was so bewildered by Gul's mastery of line, length and late swing during New Zealand's Super Eight derailment that after the game he (unwittingly or otherwise) called into question the honesty of the methods employed. Younis' reaction was apoplectic, as he demanded an end to the suspicions that habitually surround Pakistani success, and instead called for an acknowledgment of a bowler at the absolute peak of his powers. Gul's figures that day of 5 for 6 may prove to be Laker-esque in their endurance in the record-books, but subsequent performances have shown it was no one-off. His appearance, invariably in the second ten overs of an innings, can bring all momentum to a shuddering halt.

Team news

Both teams may want to retain their winning line-ups.

Pakistan (probable) 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Shahzaid Hasan, 3 Shahid Afridi, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Younis Khan (capt), 6 Misbah-ul-Haq, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Fawad Alam, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Mohammad Aamer.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt/wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Jehan Mubarak, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Ajantha Mendis.

Stats and Trivia

Pakistan and Sri Lanka have both contested two 50-over World Cup finals in the past, with one victory and one defeat apiece. Pakistan beat England in the final at Melbourne in 1992, then lost to Australia at Lord's in 1999. Sri Lanka beat Australia at Lahore in 1996, then lost to the Aussies at Bridgetown in 2007.
Pakistan, of course, contested the inaugural World Twenty20 final as well, when they lost by 5 runs against India at Johannesburg.
All five of the tournament's leading wicket-takers will be on display in the final. Mendis, Gul, Malinga and Ajmal have all taken 12 wickets, Afridi is tucked in behind them on 10.
Click here for more stats.


"Sanath is always a big-match player. He's won a lot of matches for us in the past, and I think he's going to win a lot more in the next few years as well. As long as he's fit and is performing, we are happy to have him in the side. I think he'll do something special in the final."
Sri Lanka's captain Kumar Sangakkara talks up the form and focus of Sanath Jayasuriya, who was off-colour during the semi-final victory over West Indies.

"I used to think of myself as a batsman three to four years ago because that is how everyone started to think of me. But I was moved around so much the order that I just went back to concentrating on bowling. I told Younis I wanted to bat up the order and it worked."
Shahid Afridi concedes that bowling is his strongest suit these days, despite his destructive batting against South Africa at Trent Bridge.

West Indies vs Sri Lanka Highlights - 2nd Semi Final

SL Bat

WI Bat

Watch cricket highlights: West Indies vs Sri Lanka - the 2nd Semi Final of the T20 cricket World Cup.

Scoreline: Sri Lanka 158/5 - Dilshan 96 (57) | West Indies 101 all out - Chris Gayle 63 no

The Dilshan knock was similar to the Gilchrist knock in the final of the 2007 ODI World Cup in that, teammates floundered where he found ease. Gayle looked to be delaying his launch for once things had stabilized around him - a phase of play that remained elusive and so an emphatic win in the end for Sri Lanka.

Pregame: Sarwan and Chanderpaul in the middle using their experience vs spin could possibly decide whether WI can put one past SL. Simmons vs quality spin will also be worth a watch, while Sri Lanka will be hoping one of their top 4 hangs around, not exposing the Silva-Mubarak enigma. How will Gayle and Bravo react to the SL pace attack who barring Malinga have side-stepped crouchingly behind Murali-Mendis?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

South Africa vs Pakistan Highlights - 1st Semi Final

Pakistan Bat
SA Bat

Watch cricket highlights - South Africa vs Pakistan - the 1st Semi Final of the 2009 T20 World Cup.

Scoreline: Pakistan 149/4: Shahid Afridi 51 (34), Malik 34 (39), Kamran Akmal 23 (12)
SA 142/5: Kallis 64 (54) - Shahid Afridi 4-16-2, Umar Gul 3-19-0

Postgame: After an almost 2 year wait, Afridi who’d hit the pits of ridicule during the game vs England, pours scorn on all who laughed (Praveen, yeah you.)

The Pak batting petering out in the final overs partly due to super stuff by Parnell-Steyn seemed to have tilted it SA’s way after the spanking start by Akmal. But SA seemed to panic a bit after losing Gibbs and AB to Afridi, looking to consolidate by sending Duminy in when the consolidator Kallis was already in and set. Smith in the post-match thing admitted he had Morkel padded up from the 11th over, and then ironically added, “If you don’t lose a wicket he can’t come in and bat” - it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to send in a drink and tell JP to make way. Not sure whether it would have changed the result considering Gul bowled brilliantly yet again, but it was a shot worth taking to have Albie or Merwe (who seems to have lost favour as a hitter suddenly) in. Especially when you consider the fact that Younis Khan almost bungled the game giving Fawad an over out of nowhere which meant Gul even if he bowled through would finish an over short. If WI make it past SL tomorrow, you’d have two sides that most would have marked at the start of the tournament as being the most unpredictable, squaring off for the Cup. Awesome.

JP Duminy’s current state in T20 cricket seems really confused. When he arrived on the scene vs the Aussies, his early T20 games showed him to be an inventive attacking player, and then all of a sudden since Merwe arrived, he’s shifted into a rotate-the-strike role. In the end everyone seems confused, cos now Merwe is playing in the side as a spinner primarily and Duminy’s finding it hard to get the boundaries away at will. Anyway, SA have a while to reflect yet again on a semi-final loss and they’ll probably be wishing they lost the game to India, just so they could get the law of averages (at least), to perhaps get them a Final spot. It’s sad for SA cricket cos their win vs Australia at Perth seemed to be finally ridding them of all past labels.

Pregame: Similar bowling attacks (Steyn/Parnell/Kallis vs Gul/Aamer/Razzaq and Botha/Merwe vs Afridi/Ajmal) and an important middle-order batsman who can counter spin (de Villiers vs Younis Khan). Pakistan have the edge at the top though, (with Gibbs one down) in Akmal/Hassan vs Smith/Kallis.
Umar Gul has been (deservedly) the limelight-hogger, but Aamer has quietly been bowling quite brilliantly through the tournament and so Smith (who seems to have rediscovered his touch) vs the youngster will be watch-worthy. In the propel-the-score lineup, Pakistan have a couple whose status at this point can’t really be pinned down - Afridi has been looking better with each game, while Razzaq hit a nice big six in the game vs Ireland. For SA, the blind-hitting abilities of Merwe haven’t really been called on so far, with Botha being sent above him in the game vs India. Was that a strategy - will Merwe suddenly walk out today if an early wicket falls. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to send him against pace rather than spin considering his play seems to be designed around - pick the line of the ball early, turn head away and launch an almighty swing and let Him decide where the ball goes.

Science v art in clash of cultures

The batting needs the likes of Shoaib Malik to really get his show going.

Match facts

Thursday June 18
Start time 1730 local (1630 GMT)

Big Picture

It's first a clash of ethos, of philosophies and even of time, more than a semi-final. Here is truly man against machine, the art of cricket against the science of it, cricket's future and cricket's past. South Africa's progress to this point has been smooth, well-planned, calculated and inevitable, as if their players were born to do this. Pakistan have got here in shambles - losing games, winning some, treating it all as a bit of fun - and the players not so much born to do this are struggling to discover why they are doing it at all.

South Africa lack nowhere and nothing. If Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith are the efficient drones at the top, there is heart in the middle, with the ever-frail skills of Herschelle Gibbs and the creativity of AB de Villiers. Even Albie Morkel, in whom there are glimpses of Zulu, thankfully smiles more. They've always had pace, but now they even have spinners, who are not batsmen forced to bowl. Sure, they are a little one-dimensional (watching videos of Umar Gul's yorkers?), but they are spinners - South African and successful; how often have we said that in the past?

The whole machinery is intimidating, determined to iron out all kinks, the mission pre-programmed; with seven consecutive wins in this format, they have apparently also taken the inherent unpredictability of this format out of the equation. They are well-trained, well-oiled, and their psychologist talk about 120 contests and of processes over outcomes and how choking is not really an issue anymore. They win even warm-up matches and the dead games because every game counts. They are cricket's future.

Pakistan are the past. They are wholly dysfunctional, but just about getting along, though unsure where they are going. They don't control their extras, they don't run the singles hard and they field as if it were still the 60s. They are least bothered about erasing the flaws because any win will be in spite of them. They did hire a psychologist though, and you can only imagine what those sessions were like and how much they actually talked about sport and cricket. There are permanent mutterings of serious rifts. They may not bat, bowl or field well all the time, but sometimes, they do what can only be described as a 'Pakistan': that is, they bowl, bat or field spectacularly, briefly, to change the outcome of matches. You cannot plan or account for this as an opponent because Pakistan themselves don't plan or account for it.

It can come from any person, any discipline, but on evidence, it is likelier to come from the bowling. The batting needs Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq to really get their show going. A piece of fielding brilliance cannot be discounted, but generally both Pakistan and West Indies have happily disproved the dictum that in T20 cricket you have to be Jonty Rhodes to get anywhere. Heroes will likely be found among the Umar Guls, the spinners and maybe even Mohammad Aamer, who is a throwback to the late 80s and early 90s, when Pakistani fast bowlers were born ready to play international cricket.

The pressure on South Africa however, will be greater. They are expected to win this and anyway they will always have the whole 'chokers' tag to deal with until the day they actually lift a big trophy. It doesn't help that they look as good as they did during the 1999 World Cup, though they are easier on the eye. Pakistan, as Younis Khan said before leaving for England, won't much mind a semi-final spot; Kamran Abbasi rightly noted that they may have had an easier ride to the semis than most but no country has had a rougher two years. Clearly they'd love to win it, but they have already achieved more than many thought and a loss wouldn't be the end of the world. But importantly, as the only side to make it to the last four in 2007 and 2009, they have underscored their significance in this brave new, T20 world, a world in which they absolutely cannot be ignored.

Form guide

(last five matches, most recent first)

Pakistan WWLWL

South Africa WWWWW

Watch out for...

Roelof van der Merwe celebrates Brendon McCullum's dismissal with Herschelle Gibbs, New Zealand v South Africa, ICC World Twenty20, Lord's, June 9, 2009
The whole South African machinery is intimidating - determined to iron out all kinks, the mission pre-programmed.

Albie Morkel has been a quiet, steady ever-present through South Africa's tournament. But he is capable of bigger, more explosive things especially with the bat and this match - and potentially the next - are the best platforms for it.

Shahid Afridi's moment turned the tournament for Pakistan, an outstanding catch hastening New Zealand's collapse, and possibly himself - at least with the bat. Since then he has batted with rare sense, as everyone has wished him to, and at little expense to his strike rate. He will be a factor with the ball anyway, but if he gets going with the bat, then South Africa will panic.

Team news

Pakistan have finally settled upon what they feel is their best line-up, more by chance than design. Barring injury, there are unlikely to be any changes.

Pakistan: (probable) 1 Shahzaib Hassan, 2 Kamran Akmal (wk), 3 Shoaib Malik, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq, 5 Younis Khan (capt), 6 Abdul Razzaq, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Fawad Alam, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Mohammad Aamer, 11 Saeed Ajmal

Jacques Kallis will come back in for Morne Morkel after being rested for the dead game against India.

South Africa: (probable) 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Jacques Kallis, 3 Herschelle Gibbs, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 JP Duminy, 6 A Morkel, 7 M Boucher, 8 Johan Botha, 9 Roelof van der Merwe, 10 Wayne Parnell, 11 Dale Steyn

Pitch and conditions

The surface for this match is two along from the one that turned square for the South Africa-India match and is expected to be harder and offer less help for the spinners. However, the slow bowlers have had an impact throughout so are still likely to be key. Steady rain arrived in Nottingham on the practice day, but is due to clear overnight and the forecast for Thursday is fine.

Stats and Trivia

  • Pakistan and South Africa have six bowlers in the top 10 wicket-takers of the tournament, though Pakistanis occupy the top two spots.

  • Three of the top 10 run-scorers of the tournament are from South Africa and Pakistan, with AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis at numbers two and three..


    "Our bowling has been great and all of them are now bowling in rhythm. The batsmen have to support the bowlers if we are to win this cup."

    Younis Khan points out the areas of improvement.

    ""I think we've come past that. This team has come a long way and I think we've proven that. Hopefully we can show that on Thursday, that's what is exciting about it. "

    Graeme Smith dismisses talk of being 'chokers'.

    "It's great to be in a position where you can rock up to a ground, look at the wicket and know you have all the bases covered. We aren't really worried what the wicket will be."

    Mark Boucher believes South Africa can cope with any conditions that are thrown at them.

India vs South Africa Highlights - Super 8s

SA Bat

India Bat

Watch cricket highlights - India vs South Africa from the Super 8s of the 2009 T20 Cricket World Cup.

Scoreline: SA 130/5 AB de Villiers 63 (51) - Jadeja 3-9-1
India 118/8 Botha 4-16-3

Postgame: Pregame

Pregame: Yeah, so India is supposed to be playing for pride - a concept best left to columnists - when all the players probably want to do is head home and find some pretty bimbettes. Does anyone ever remember the result of a dead-rubber game and the pride one team left with? If you lose a series or tournament, you lose, pride or no pride.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka Highlights - Super 8s

SL Bat

NZ Bat

England vs West Indies Highlights - Super 8s

England Bat

WI Bat

Watch cricket highlights - England vs West Indies from the Super 8s of the 2009 T20 Cricket World Cup

Scoreline: England 161/6 (20 overs) Ravi Bopara 55 (47), Kevin Pietersen 31 (19)
Rain interrupted target for WI - 80 off 9 - get there in 8.2 overs - Sarwan 19, Chanderpaul 17, Bravo 18, Gayle 15

England yet again showed that barring their openers (Wright didn’t come off today) and KP, they have had pretty much nothing propel-the-score worthy in their middle order this WC. What Sarwan and Chanderpaul couldn’t do during thegame vs SA in support of Simmons, finally happened in the knock-out game and so, if you look at T20 cricket as the most consistently aggressive form of cricket, you’d have to believe the more deserving team went through today.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pakistan vs Ireland Highlights - Super 8s

Pakistan Bat

Ireland Bat

Watch cricket highlights - Pakistan vs Ireland from the Super 8s of the 2009 T20 Cricket World Cup.

Scoreline: Pakistan 159/5 Kamran Akmal 57 (51), Shahid Afridi 24 (13) - Boyd Rankin 4-11-0
Ireland 120/9 Porterfield 40 (36) - Ajmal 4-19-4, Umar Gul 4-19-2, Aamer 4-19-1

The most interesting aspect of the Pakistan batting in the early part was the respect they gave the Irish bowling, without going bananas as they often can do. Afridi who’d played a responsible knock in the game vs NZ, looked to be getting back into some sort of batting form if not striking form. And that’s super for viewers considering Yuvraj’s exit yesterday. Think Hasan at the top and Razzaq to come is making the difference as Afridi no longer sees himself as the lone-hitter around and feels he can afford to work his way into form.

Ireland like against SL came up against a spin attack and pacers, their relative inexperience couldn’t really cope with. End of the Irish this year, but there are some players there, worth looking forward to whenever they next play international cricket. Until then, will miss their anthem played on a cricket field.

The big win by Pakistan today means their presence in the semis is no longer dependent on SL vs NZ tomorrow cos their NRR is better than SL now.

India vs England Highlights - Super 8s

England Bat

India Bat


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sri Lanka vs Ireland Highlights - Super 8s

SL Bat

Ireland Bat

Watch cricket highlights - Sri Lanka vs Ireland from the Super 8s of the 2009 T20 Cricket World Cup.

Scoreline: SL 144/9 Mahela Jayawardene 78 (53) - Trent Johnston 4-1-18-1, Alex Cusack 3-18-4
Ireland 135/7: Niall O’Brien 31 (37), Mooney 31 (21)

Fore-play: Team down at 14/2 and like he has done for years, Mahela Jayawardene bails Sri Lanka out. All those classy shots on offer here. What made the SL innings a lone-man effort (with some support from Sanath) was the uncertainty of Chamara-Mubarak lurking below him.

Ireland did most things perfectly today even with Mahela’s innings, but in the end it came down to Murali, Malinga and Mendis. Sri Lanka have been banking too much on them and as mentioned earlier on this site, against a more experienced side that plays spin well, SL could well come unstuck.

Pre-play: With all the beauty associated with a giant-killing game, you’d have to believe that Murali-Mendis and Malinga will be too much for the (relatively) inexperienced Irish, whatever they can summon with the ball. But on an individual player note, it would be good to see Kevin O’Brien come good.